In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Like many, I remember that rhyme from my early school days. A time when history came out of a book, and no “Wiki” appeared in its title or text. While it’s nice to have the hyper-linked world at our finger tips, one must wonder just how much salt to take before the flavor is ruined, and we lose faith in all those cooks who may be spoiling the broth (or at least changing the recipe too often).
To begin with, whatever happened to CRISTOBO COLUMBO? That was the name we in-the-know wise guys used. It seems now that Cristoforo Colombo or perhaps Cristóbal Colón or maybe even Cristóvão Colombo was the guy who handled that infamous first bouquet o’ ‘bacco from the god fearing natives of what would soon become our Land of Opportunity. Legend has it we were showered with gifts of fruits and daggers as well. The crew scoffed down the fruit, sharpened their blades, and tossed the odd smelling leaves overboard to rest with the fishes. With a start like that, what followed to lead us on to our modern love of said drowning leaf must have been one Jim Dandy of a rescue.
The next good fella who makes a splash is a far less well known crew member on the voyage. Rodrigo de Jerez, seemingly peeping around a boulder with his lackey, Luis de Torres, spy a ritualistic native ceremony. A cornucopious paper device funnels mysterious vapors through the lips of the celebrants. Soon, clouds of billowing smoke emerge from their mouths to fill the air with a mystically bizarre, yet intoxicating aroma. This apparently was enough for young Rodrigo to take up the habit himself and carry it back with him to the unsuspecting innocents of the Old World. Upon seeing him roaming the streets and docks of Europe with a look of devilish glee and strange evil smoke pouring out his nostrils, the neighbors called the church police. Not expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition, de Jerez was carted off to the dungeons for the next seven years. When he was finally remanded to the light of day, smoking had become all the rage across the land. He could barely make out the forms of the formerly frightened as they paraded past him, engulfing him in a luxurious cloud of second hand irony.
Another more notable, but equally hapless bon vivant in the saga of the centuries was Sir Walter Raleigh (or “Riley” and some have taken to calling him for reasons unknown). His life was anything but uneventful and leisurely. Aside from his passing interests in tobacco from the Roanoke era, he was imprisoned twice; once for secretly marrying a handmaiden of a certain royal family, and again for plotting the assassination of that queen’s son, who through her death, became king. But good Sir Walter bounced back once again to sail the open seas. Unfortunately, his rowdy crew behaved quite badly in a Spanish port and when he returned to England he was executed in an effort to keep the peace between the two empires. Bad luck, (we hope unrelated to smoking tobacco), but at least he still shows up on pouches and tins.
But lastly, in an effort to raise up the status and emphasize the importance our oft mistreated cash crop, we should consider the case of Patrick Henry. When he wasn’t sitting idly by in the alehouse trying to make up his mind over the menu items, he was defending causes and making speeches like the one that is arguably leading to the root cause of the revolution – and brother, it started with T but it wasn’t tea. As our leaf was a long standing common currency, the Anglican clergy had been paid in tobacco until the late 1750s. The Virginia colony then changed its law to pay them in currency at the fixed rate of 2 cents a pound. It was all good until tobacco began selling for 6 cents a pound, and the lost opportunity for higher pay brought a great protest to King George III, and so he had the new law vetoed. But since the new Virginia Six-Penny law was occasionally adhered to anyway, some clergy sued their parishes. Patrick Henry defended one such instance in court. He berated England’s interference in domestic matters, accusing King George of tyranny for overturning Virginia law, and convinced the jury to award the plaintiff clergymen no more than one penny in damages.
It’s good have a tale of tobacco that doesn’t end in prison, execution, or tyranny. Jolly good job, fellows!